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Genealogy, Who Do You Think You Are

Updated on May 17, 2019
ethel smith profile image

With a keen interest in British politics this writer is never afraid to share her opinion

Example of a Family Tree

Who Do You Think You Are? UK Television

The UK has been running a rather interesting programme for the last few years. It is titled Who Do You Think You Are?. The programme has some celebrity, or other, tracing back their family history, in order to track down their roots and find out just who they really are.

Some celebrities find interesting, strange or sad facts about their ancestry whilst others find little to write home about. It does make for interesting watching. It is usually aired on the BBC.

If you get the chance to watch this programme try to catch a couple of episodes, to get a proper feel for the programme. Each programme usually lasts around an hour and will follow the celebrity as, he or she, meets with previously unknown family members. The person will also travel up and down the country, which of course is made easier if you are filming such a show.

Finding out just who you really are may not be quite so easy. However with on-line research facilities available these days discovering who is part of your your family tree, is easier than it used to be.

The first steps could be checking out the Census records, for England and the UK, which are now on-line for certain years.

The programme has spawned a magazine

Researching your family tree.

I decided to try and look back at some of my family history for various reasons. My Father, born in 1914, lost his mother when he was only around 3 years old. His Father remarried a couple of years later but my Dad did not join this new family. This man, my Grandfather, was lost at sea in the thirties when all hands were lost on his ship

So this is some of what I wanted to discover:-

  • Who my Grandfather married.
  • His second wife's family name, that is her maiden name.
  • If there are any surviving family members, who may have been my Dad's half brothers or the like.
  • When my Grandfather died.
  • What was the name of the vessel.

When I was younger nobody was every really interested in such details. These days Genealogy is popular and many people, like me, are fascinated by this hidden past. I lost my parents before I was 24 and so by the time I wanted to find out some family history there were few surviving members to ask.

  • My first bit of advice then is make sure that you ask questions about your family history whilst you still have family members and whilst their memories can be relied upon.
  • Secondly make sure that you store documents such as Birth, Death and Marriage certificates safely but where you can remember that they are.
  • Next make sure that family photographs are identified. Looking through old tins full of photographs can be confusing and may not really help. Babies all look similar unless you were their Mum for instance. Try writing in pencil on the back of old photos details such as the person's name, age at the time and relationship to you.
  • When you use research sites on-line be careful about charges. Most charge you credits. 50 credits may not be 50p though but could actually be more like £3.
  • Some sites will give you access to your documents, once found, for a year. Your credits will also be valid for that year. However, some of the cheaper sites will need you to use your credits within one week. These sites may at first glance seem cheaper but probably will not be in the long run. Exercise caution. You could find out that you have paid a fair bit without finding any relevant information.
  • Where possible print copies of Census pages, that you have paid to access. This hard copy will be useful if your computer crashes and valuable documents are lost.
  • Cheap Genealogy software, which will enable you to record your information, can be useful. A basic copy of Family Tree will be fine but make sure that you back-up your information. Otherwise, if everything you have discovered is in on your computer, you could easily lose it all.
  • A Dictaphone or similar could be handy. Ask family members questions re your family history or their past, in general. Taping such conversations will enable you to concentrate on what you are trying to find out.

Obvious things can make researching your family history a little more difficult. For, example, my Mum's maiden name was Smith, which is the most common surname in England. If your family have travelled around this can add complications. However, the task will not be impossible if you allow enough time. Genealogy can be very time consuming and can be costly. It does not have to cost a fortune but you need to be careful.

In the UK details of the Census are revealed on-line after a period of time. It is already possible to view the 1911 census on some websites, whilst others will be offering access soon. Data protection, I guess, means that Census details are only revealed on-line after a set period of time. These restrictions may be less in other countries.

Remember to utilize local libraries and parish records to compliment the Census records you have found.

What I have discovered, so far.

So far I have only spent a limited amount of time researching my family tree. I have learned some information, but not exactly what I am looking for.

I have discovered that my Dad's family were originally from the south of England. They were actually from March in Cambridge-shire. Looking at the Census for certain periods of time in the 1800s it is clear that they came as a family or group of family members to my hometown. As builders, and the like, I guess they came to work here.

Of interest to me was a man who it seems is perhaps my Great, Grand-Fathers Brother. This man has the same name as my brother. As, years ago, our family always used family names to christen their children with, it now seems clear why my brother was called by this name.

Looking at the Census records enables you to:-

  • Look at the address
  • See how many rooms this home had
  • See who lived there, their ages, work and marital status and occupations
  • Look at the signature of the head of the household

One thing that stood out for me, on the family records that I checked, was just how many people in my family were widowed or orphaned. Slightly worrying as it could mean that I come from bad stock. However, just like Billy Connolly, I am now too old to die young. Joking aside though I guess that period of time was full of premature deaths. Wars, infections, disease and poverty killed many.

Some people research their family history in the hope that they will discover exciting secrets, notorious relatives or links to fame and fortune. Well it would be interesting to discover something like that but I am happy with what I have already unearthed and will be satisfied if, and when, I solve my last few family puzzles.

I know that this world is smaller than we think, and the UK even smaller, but it is also very strange. When I was researching my family history, having seen that we came from March, I was curious to read a little about that town. Looking on the Internet it would seem that one of its most famous citizens was a man called Rex Tucker. He was a British Television director. Unusual name isn't it?.

Well guess what my 90 odd year old neighbour is called?

Yes, you've guessed it, Rex Tucker.

Small world? It would seem that it is positively tiny.

Too Old To Die Young, a bit like me.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Ethel Smith


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